faith


Create in me a Clean Heart?

Tonight in church we sang this song by Keith Green. I was introduced to Keith Green by my high school mate, P, and this song was probably one of the first I heard of Keith’s. For years I was a “died in the wool” Keith Green fan. I owned all his albums. I tried to mimic his piano playing. I mail-ordered and shared all the tracts produced by his Last Days Ministries organization (there was one on homosexuality… I now have NO idea what it said). I wanted to be holy, as Keith undoubtedly was.

As my journey towards self-acceptance has progressed over recent years, I’ve shied away from songs like this one. To me, they represent the struggle to be someone I’m not. This song is based on Psalm 51, written by King David after his sin of adultery was found out. Until now, every time I sang create in me a clean heart, O God, I was imagining David repenting of his adultery with Bathsheba. Every time I sang create in me a clean heart, O God, I was praying for forgiveness for my own sexual sins. No, not just for my sins, but for my temptations. For my desires. Create in me a clean heart meant “please make me straight”. Please make me desire my wife. Please make me the person I think you want me to be. Cast me not away from your presence, oh Lord meant that if I wasn’t straight, I could very well end up in hell. Take not your Holy Spirit from me represented the fear that if I wasn’t straight, I could no longer be Christ’s servant in this world.

So I find myself tonight, in my new church, surrounded by gay and lesbian and other queer and not-so-queer people who accept me as I am… It all seems rather normal. And I’m wondering, why are we singing this song? I’m no longer sure what it means to have a “clean heart”. I’m not even convinced that there is a hell, apart from the hell that exists here on earth for many of God’s children. And I believe that as Father/Mother, God gives good gifts to his children. And he doesn’t take them away.

In some way, the rest of this psalm still resonates:

Renew a right spirit within me. The spirit of Christ, whose genuine love and acceptance and raw honesty changes the world forever.

Restore unto me the joy of your salvation. Let me experience anew the joy of knowing the presence of God in me.

….

As we took communion, I smiled as I watched a couple take communion together. These two men kissed each other on the lips as they walked back to their seats. I believe it was their first time in our church. Maybe it was their first time taking communion as a couple? I wondered what their journey to this point had been. What was it like to find a church where they can be open about the love they have for each other? Where their love can be celebrated publicly during that most somber of sacraments?

While this was happening, the worship leader was singing a different song:

Come as you are. That’s how I want you.
Come as you are. Feel quite at home.
Close to my heart, Loved and forgiven,
Come as you are, Why stand alone.

No need to fear, Love sets no limits,
No need to fear, Love never ends.
Don’t run away, Shamed and disheartened
Rest in my love, trust me again…

This song, by Sr. Deirdre Browne, describes what I believe to be the heart of Christianity. It is how Jesus lived and loved. It is what the church is called to say and to be. This is the new wine, replacing the old wine. This is grace fulfilling the law, thus making the law obsolete. This is love overcoming fear. This is the freedom Christ brought to each one of us. Our shame might bring us to the cross, but our loving Maker takes our shame onto that cross and gives us each a clean heart, a right spirit, and gifts us with The Holy Spirit. We no longer need to fear, as David did, that we will be “cast away” from God’s Presence. It is finished. We are his. Just as we are.

Just as I am.

Naked Pastor, David Hayward, recently posted this cartoon:

http://www.nakedpastor.com/2011/03/09/cartoon-waiting-for-a-miracle/

I’m sure this cartoon resonates with most of us, but in different ways. My sister waits and believes for the miracle of being healed of cancer. My friend waits for the miracle of winning the lottery. For years, I waited and prayed for the miracle of becoming straight. To be gay just wasn’t good enough. For me, the miracle did arrive, gradually, as I learnt of the God who loves – and even likes – me, just as I am. This wasn’t the miracle I was waiting for – and as long as I allowed the values of others dictate what my miracle should be, the more I became a skeleton on my knees. There is a miracle for each of us: it’s the miracle of knowing that you are okay. Trying to change who you are isn’t going to change that. As Richard Rohr put it, “It’s all about becoming who you already are.”

Friday night I attended a Freedom 2 B(e) discussion night. In many ways it was pretty much what I expected: a bunch of GLBT Christians sitting around and talking about faith and sexuality. There were about twenty men (no women) there on Friday night. All Christians, all gay (presumably). Wow. I didn’t expect to be tongue-tied… but I really felt like I had nothing to say all night. [I didn’t even think to ask why the ‘e’ in ‘b(e)’ is in bracket(s).] The brief conversations I had before and after the meeting seemed terribly awkward. The few words I said during the actual meeting only came out when I was directly asked a question… I had lots going on in my head, but nothing was going to come out, even if I wanted it to. And this is a man who leads psycho-educational and therapeutic groups for a living! It is so different not being the group leader!

So I reflected on what was going on for me that made it seem so difficult. I think the feelings that overwhelmed me were relief and acceptance. Not to mention the feeling of “wow, I’m in a room with 20 gay men and there’s nothing overtly sexual going on” (I’m NOT getting into what might have been happening covertly); or “wow, I’m in a room with 20 gay men and there’s no one telling us how we can find freedom or deliverance from our sexual proclivities.” The feeling of relief came from being relieved of the straight disguise that I necessarily wear in my daily life. The feeling of acceptance, of it being okay to be on the outside the same man that I’m okay with on the inside.

So, mostly I listened to the conversation, and watched people. I was amazed at how articulate some of the men were – they could tell their stories, or spout off a list of facts with great eloquence. I noticed the ones who weren’t talking (it wasn’t just me). I admired Anthony Venn-Brown’s ability to lead the group – to contain some members and to draw information out of others. I thought about ways the group could be run differently – what I might have done if I were the leader, and what might have helped me feel a bit more comfortable, instead of feeling overwhelmed by my own internal responses to the setting.

I also took notes, at Anthony’s invitation. I thought at one point that the notes would make excellent blogging material. It would also make a great academic paper, which I would love to submit to a journal some day. So for now, I just give some of the points that stood out for me, and we’ll see if I expand on them later.

Most of the conversation centred around the question, “what are the specific needs of GLBT people from church backgrounds?” Here are some answers that were given (and which I have taken license to edit to fit my own understanding):

  • the need for a ‘transitional space’ where GLBT Christians can safely begin to be themselves, in terms of their sexuality and their faith, without fear of either ‘being cruised’ or of being condemned to hell
  • the need for like-minded people to know and to talk to
  • resources to assist in the process of reconciling faith and practice with sexuality
  • education around making choices about sexual activity, including safe-sex
  • non-judgmental safe space within the church
  • skills for effectively and respectfully communicating their stories with church leaders
  • support in “coming out” as a Christian
  • GLBT-friendly discipleship
  • an advocate, someone who will speak for GLBT people within the church
  • an advocate, someone who will speak for people of faith within the GLBT community

So, there you have it. I am moving forward in this journey of self-acceptance. Since the last time I blogged, I have moved to another country with my family, found new work, become re-acquainted with both friends and relatives, found a new church home (I think), and I feel like I have a new lease on life, in spite of the difficulties that seem to be in my way.

Well, it’s been a while again since I’ve posted.

Lots has happened since June/July, when I last was posting regularly. I hope to get to detail some of it in the coming weeks.

The big things include:

  • a conversation with a pastor, which I alluded to in my last post
  • my wife’s conversations with her sister-in-law and brother about my sexual orientation
  • another conversation with John from New Direction
  • attending a youth event with my 12 year old daughter at which Brian Pengelly was speaking
  • being challenged by family members for reading The Audacity of Hope who seem to think reading anything by that mega-abortionist Barack Obama is a sin

Of course, the other big thing is our plans to move to Australia or visit for nine months. (I guess nine months is a time period pregnant with possibilities!) My wife is still not excited about moving to another continent with her gay husband who a year ago was asking her for a divorce. I can’t blame her. So, we go for nine months, and next July we’ll make a decision. In the meantime, we’ll be able to attend my niece’s wedding there. And there’s also the high probability that we’ll attend my sister’s funeral, unless a miracle happens.

Having written this, I guess it would be no surprise to you to hear that things are tense around here. We wait, and we wait. We are waiting for a visa for my wife so she can work while we’re in Australia. We wait for news about my sister’s health. We’re waiting for news about her first granddaughter, whose birth due date was now three days ago. We wait for the results of the Canadian election on October 14th (This is also significant because I’m working for Elections Canada at the moment… on the 14th I’ll be out of a job.) The economic news does nothing to help the atmosphere either (although I am hoping that lower commodity prices might translate into lower airfares!)

So, that’s it for now. It’s hard to trust God right now. Harder than ever. My wife (an ordained minister) is really struggling with what she believes. I’m struggling with all sorts of doubts and temptations, too. I must say that leaving her for a relationship with a man is the farthest thing from my mind right now. We need each other, and our kids need us too.

Pray for me, if you can.

And I’ll try to be “back” soon.

Highly Recommended

 

Superheroes, Saviors, and Sinners Without Secrets by D.S. Reade

 

This book was loaned to me by one of the leaders of New Direction in Toronto. Just by reading the back cover I knew I would enjoy this book. The title itself was one I could identify strongly – I too want to be known as a “sinner without secrets.”

 

Dave Reade is a gifted story-teller. His prose is in the style of Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. Professionally, Reade is a counsellor, and, even though he does not really talk about his work, I can see him as a master of Narrative Therapy. I am sure that writing this book was a therapeutic exercise by which he retold the story of his life.

 

Reade has been through places I can identify with. His journey with faith and homosexuality has taken many turns. He talks about the sexual abuse he experienced as a boy, and his reluctance to recognize it as such. He talks about riding a bicycle across America. He tells us about his difficulty fitting in with his straight male friends, in spite of his deep desire to be in honest relationship with them. He tells about God giving him a new name. He tries to explain why he has hope, even when he’s not really sure why. In fact, his chapter about hope reminded me of this recent post from College Jay.

 

Reade is definitely made a Side B decision for himself, but honestly talks about his desire to be in a monogamous relationship with another man. He also talks about his struggle as he seeks to live the celibate life that he believes that God has called him to.

 

I found this book challenging, uplifting, encouraging, honest, real. I recommend it to any gay Christians out there who, like me, haven’t quite figured out if they take “Side A” or “Side B”. Somehow reading this book assured me, once again, that being in this storm of sexual identity is quite okay, and that I don’t have to have all the answers right now.

 

I think this book would be particularly helpful for straight Christians who don’t quite “get” homosexuality. It’s not that he explains it. He is simply honest in describing his journey, the emotions he goes through, and how his desires continue in spite of the choice he has made to be celibate.

 

Thanks, Dave Reade, for sharing your story with us. Thanks for telling us your secrets.

 

 

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted. The summer has been busy, and I’ve had lots of conversations both with my wife and others on this issue of sexuality. I’ve been challenged to take down this blog… I’m reluctant to do that, though. I feel like this blog has contributed greatly to my processing on this journey, and I believe it can help other men and women on similar paths. It also stands as a reminder for myself of where I have been, what changes have taken place in my thinking, what has challenged me. If this storm ever settles, I don’t want to forget what it was like to be in the middle of it. I want others to know that it is okay to be in this storm.

 

Why is it okay to be in this storm? Firstly, because there is nothing wrong with questioning what I believe. There is nothing wrong with speaking the truth about what I feel and experience on a daily basis. Whatever the outcome, in many ways I believe that this storm has been the right place for me to be.

 

It has been hard, oh so hard, on my wife and on our relationship. But I believe that ultimately this is good too. I feel like I no longer need to hide the struggles I go through as a gay man married to a straight woman, and one seeking to do it in the most honest and faithful way possible. I ache some days over the pain she is experiencing, but I know that in the end there will be good that comes out of it. And I feel no guilt over it, because I’ve only resolved to be honest with myself and with my wife. I also believe that eventually my children will understand that, just as it is important to know and understand what one believes and why, there will come times when the experiences of life will severely challenge those beliefs. They need to know that it is okay – healthy, in fact – to be honest about their feelings, and it is okay to wonder about the nature of truth and how we find it. I don’t want my journey and my struggle to be a secret known only by myself and a few close friends. I often think that my journey would have been easier had I known some of the struggles my father and grandfathers had gone through. Maybe knowing about my experiences and struggles will help my children on their sojourns here.

 

Why have I been encouraged to quit this blog? Well, for starters there have been some things on here that my wife may not appreciate the whole world knowing. For that reason, I may go back and edit or hide some of the more personal posts. Secondly, there are also some posts that contain links to other sites that do contain some porn or other material that I do not wish to be associated with. These links were made to illustrate the different paths individuals choose to take on their journeys with same-sex attraction. I will remove some of these links, not for the sake of censorship – everybody has the right to express their views, their loves, themselves – but out of deference and respect for the men and women in my life who are journeying most closely with me through this storm.

 

I have done a lot of reading over recent weeks, and I hope in the coming weeks to post more about what I have read.

 

In the meantime, let me recommend to you D.S. Reade’s memoir, Superheroes, Saviors, and Sinners Without Secrets. While our stories are vastly different, I also find I have much in common with David Reade, and there are parts of this book I think I could have written myself.

 

 

While I have, of course, “struggled” with my sexuality for about 25 years, it has really only been in the last year that I have felt compelled to truly embrace who I am. When I started blogging about this in March of this year, I initially titled my blog “through the storm,” realizing that, whatever the outcome of this journey, it certainly felt like living through a storm. As a man of faith, I imagine myself in the disciples’ boat, with Jesus sleeping in the bow as a mighty storm whips up the waves in the sea.

 

I remain in this storm… but it seems to have taken on a different nature. I no longer feel so alone. I no longer feel I need to be silent. Jesus still sleeps, but the presence of God is yet a common feeling and powerful reality for me. I know that He is in control, even when the questions keep coming, the anger in me rises repeatedly, and the doubts loom larger than my faith.

 

I have lots of questions.

 

How can I be real? How can I be truly honest? I am being honest with myself. But I still have fear that if I am totally honest with my wife that that would be like giving in, and saying goodbye to my marriage and my family, which I truly value. I admire Casey for the honesty with which he is proceeding.

 

Reflecting on my previous post, I wonder why I was so taken by Jim Lyon’s sermon? There really was nothing new there – nothing that I hadn’t considered before. I still have questions about why we Christians want to take the whole Bible so seriously, when the truth is we all pick and choose which parts of it we want to follow.

My big question is about this scripture: But if they can’t control themselves, they should go ahead and marry. It’s better to marry than to burn with lust. (I Corinthians 7:9). First of all, I don’t really believe Paul had an understanding of homosexuality as we do today. He saw it as unnatural – Romans 1 proves this. In a sense I see it as unnatural too, in that it was not part of God’s original design. But then, nor do I believe that physical blindness or paralysis or arthritis were part of His original design. Just as diseases and physical imperfections were part of the fall, so is homosexuality. We have learned that homosexuality can no more be “cured”, than can blindness. Sure, there are some cases where miracles or medicine or both have cured blindness, and I believe that in some cases miracles or psychotherapy have changed homosexuals to heterosexuals. But for most of us – as for most blind persons – our sexual orientation seems to be immutable. So, lets assume Paul gained an understanding of homosexuality as we understand it today – as a fixed orientation that is both unchosen and immutable. What would he say to homosexuals in a similar predicament to the heterosexuals mentioned in 1 Corinthians? Would he not give them similar advice? What would Paul say to gay men and women today? I find it hard to believe that he would have been as judgmental as he comes across in the scriptures.

I guess one big question per post is enough…

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